Energy is one of the biggest overheads for businesses, with 70 per cent of companies reporting a rise in costs during 2014*. But by adopting simple measures, such as turning off heating overnight or conducting a monitor check before leaving the office, businesses could make 10 per cent savings on their energy bills.
Indeed, research by the Carbon Trust has estimated British businesses could save £300m a year by adopting these procedures. As Bruno Gardner, managing director of Low Carbon Workplace at the Carbon Trust, explains, “You don’t need to invest anything – it’s free money. Even turning down your thermostat by one degree will save eight per cent of your heating bill.”
One of the first things business-owners can do is an internal analysis of “how much energy you’re using and its cost,” according to Rowan Wallis, director of environmental and energy consultancy Sustainable Business Partnership. From there, it’s a matter of taking efficiency one step at a time, starting with upgrading existing equipment, such as boilers, or investing in low-cost draught excluders or double-glazing.
These can bring estimated savings of 20-30 per cent – translating to “a bottom line benefit of five per cent increase in sales,” reckons Gardner. Upgrading to LED light bulbs is an effective way of saving money. “You can pick up decent LED spotlights from £6,” says Wallis. “If you’re a retailer with halogen spotlights and you change them to LEDs, you can often get your money back in energy savings within a year.”
Sustainable Business Partnership has worked with Chichester-based Shore Water Sports, which made annual savings of £3,360 by replacing halogen spotlights and fluorescent tubes with LEDs. Finally, expensive renewables such as photovoltaic roof panels or biomass boilers could be considered, even if payback is longer (five to 10 years rather than two to three).
But although many companies are already keen to improve their energy efficiency, they face a recurring obstacle: engaging staff. After all, if employees aren’t paying for the electricity bill, why should they bother switching lights off? Gardner recommends putting up stickers and posters around the office or giving staff more responsibility, such as writing a green ambassadorial role into their job descriptions.
“Having a named energy champion will give them licence to stand up at staff away-days to give presentations – great for career progression,” he says. Wallis recommends incentivising techniques, such as “pledging half the money saved on energy bills towards the staff Christmas party – something tangible employees can look forward to”.
There’s also the thorny issue of price. Although conducting a nightly sweep of office monitors is cost-free, installing a new boiler (at an average cost: £2,300**) isn’t. But numerous funds and schemes are available, ranging from local government grants to the Carbon Trust/Siemens Energy Efficiency Financing scheme (“It offers flexible payback over five or six years so business cashflows are positive,” says Gardner), through to British Gas’s Energy Efficiency Fund offering free advice and installations valued at up to £6,000. And there’s another benefit: the PR value accrued by being ‘green’. “After you’ve implemented measures, tell people about it,” says Wallis.
“Use it for marketing and on your website to show your company is aware of its responsibility.” “People don’t focus on energy efficiency because it’s not the most interesting thing,” adds Gardner. “But if you’re a small business trying to break even each year, it can be a very easy way to save money and do a good thing for the environment at the same time.”
*Forum for Private Business Cost of Doing Business survey, 2014
** Energy Saving Trust